AOL Plans Nine-Figure Deal for 800 Patents with Microsoft

By Steve Anderson April 09, 2012

AOL put out the word only a few hours ago that they plan to enter a patent deal with Microsoft, by which AOL sells off fully 800 of its patents, licenses out the remaining, and in return gets its hands on a whole lot of cash: roughly $1.06 billion.

Shareholders should be happy to hear, at least in the short term, that a substantial portion of said billion will be returning to them, or so AOL's current plans suggest. Such shareholder happiness shone through quite clearly in a big jump in AOL's stock price, which jumped up fully 35 percent – $6.46 – in premarket trading, despite the fact that AOL's return of the cash isn't expected until the closing days of this year, when the sale is actually set to close. Microsoft's shareholders were substantially less enthusiastic, dropping share prices 22 cents in the same span.

But calling this a fire sale would be a mistake; AOL still holds rights to over 300 patents, covering a variety of fields like advertising, social networking, security and content generation, among others. Tim Armstrong, AOL's chairman and CEO, said that the sale to Microsoft came as the result of what he called a “robust” auction, and served as proof the company still has a lot of value in at least its patents.

Still, considering AOL's business of late, with the purchase of a variety of web content outlets like the Huffington Post and TechCrunch, it was likely a smart move for AOL to make such a move. It will allow them to not only marshal more resources behind their content moves but also allow them to pull away resources relating to the sold patents. Improved focus and a nine-figure check are never really bad business moves, at least not in the short term. Some may question the long-term viability of such a strategy – the current exchange rate, after all, is one in the hand and two in the bush, but five or ten in the bush often beats one in the hand – but the early term figures look great.

Microsoft's own picture in this may be rosier than the early shareholder reaction would indicate as well, especially since Microsoft recently picked up Skype, and if Microsoft got hold of some of AOL's patents regarding AIM, that could be helpful for them as well.

While many of the specifics of the deal are known only to AOL and Microsoft, this looks like it could be a very good deal for both parties indeed. With AOL now able to put better focus and resources behind its content strategy and Microsoft getting a variety of software patents, each company is playing on familiar turf, and there's nothing like a home-field advantage to give a firm a boost in the marketplace.

Edited by Jennifer Russell

Contributing TechZone360 Writer

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